Having to Repay GI Bill Benefits, When You Thought They Were Already Paid For

If one of your parents has served in the military and can receive Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, they might be able to transfer those benefits to you. That way, you can pay for college to get the education you want. As a service member, being able to pass on these benefits is a huge perk to serving in the military, especially if you don’t plan on using them for yourself.

However, in an article from the Chicago Sun-Times, we read that Kelli Hower, 30 years old, and pregnant with her first child received a call from a debt collector. The collector was on a contract with the US Treasury Department, saying she owed the government $12,000 for her college tuition payments and living expenses.

This came as a huge shock.  For one, she never received notification from the VA that anything was owed by her. It turned out that the notices went to the wrong address. More than that, Hower had already used the benefits she had received.  She received the benefits from her father, Bruce Coxworth, who had served 22.5 years as a military police officer with the Army National Guard.

Her father had been told by the National Guard that he had fulfilled his commitments. He went on to split the benefits between his three children. Hower and one of her brothers used their share of the benefits first, but when her other brother went to use his, the VA told him no. The records showed that Coxworth was five months short of his service time that he would have needed in order to transfer his benefits to his children. Because he was in the National Guard, that would have been the equivalent of 10 drill days.

From the government’s point of view, Coxworth’s son owned them $18,000 and his daughter $12,000 plus any penalties and interest because of not even knowing about the debt until it went to a debt collector. Howler’s credit score dropped and her tax-return was garnished because of this.

Kelli Hower and her father are not the only ones this has happened to. The Chicago Sun-Times heard from other families that have had to deal with this after an article about how a veteran’s daughter’s tuition was being cut off at DePaul was run.

Service members have been told that they can transfer their GI Bill to their spouse and children if they serve for a certain amount of time. Many will re-enlist or extend to do so. But, some have been given the wrong information, and in fact did not actually qualify, even though they assumed they did. Some did not even know this had happened until years later, which causes even more issues than if they had found out right away.

According to the article, some families have had their child’s college payments withdrawn, but were also being told the benefits were still there, as long as the veteran is the one to use them.

Coxworth is trying to get things cleared up or even get permission to come back and serve those 10 days that he is missing. However, this could take a while. This is a big problem, and one that could lead to many issues, issues that veterans and their children shouldn’t have to deal with.

There has to be a better way to make sure that the service member knows exactly what they have to serve to qualify and to make sure nothing happens with the funds until that is official. Service members need to be told accurate information so they can fulfill their requirements, and be able to transfer benefits to help their family. They do not need to worry that things were not done correctly, which could cost them time and money down the line.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill Transferability Entitlement Act was introduced in the House in December 2019. It was referred to the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity in January. This bill would allow service members who have served at least 10 years to be able to transfer their benefits. Both the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States, and the Reserve Enlisted Association are backing the bill. Maybe, these types of bills can help avoid these frustrations in the future.

When there are issues with GI Bill payments, it can cause extremely high and unexpected debt and bills, and service members and veterans shouldn’t have to face those because of mistakes that had been made in the past.

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